Past and present milestones for the YMCA of Honolulu

Serving our community since 1869

The story of the YMCA of Honolulu is the story of a growing, changing Honolulu. It started from an idea in the minds of a small group of thought leaders to the expansion of what it is today—one of the largest nonprofit organizations in Hawai'i, providing hundreds of programs and activities for generations of Hawai'i’s residents.

Prayer meetings, aid to Sunday schools and operation of a reading room in the Seamen’s Home became the first work of the YMCA of Honolulu. Physical education activities, youth rural work expansion and camping followed. Youth clubs (called Hi-Y) made up of local high school students were organized and a trade school was opened. An Army and Navy YMCA became a reality, and the Nu‘uanu Y was established and became known as the “Association world’s most notable achievement in racial integration.” 

The YMCA weathered a revolution in Hawai'i, two World Wars and a depression. Times, customs and philosophies changed and the YMCA, always a reflection of the community in which it exists, changed with them.

Today, the YMCA of Honolulu serves thousands of children, teens, and adults in a wide variety of programs

The Y’s legacy of innovation

  • The term “bodybuilding” was first used by Boston YMCA staff in 1881.
  • Basketball was invented at the International YMCA Training School in 1891.
  • Volleyball was invented at the Holyoke YMCA in 1895.
  • Group swim lessons were invented at the Detroit YMCA in 1909.
  • Softball was given its name during a meeting at the Denver YMCA in 1926.
  • Racquetball was invented at the Greenwich YMCA in 1950.
  • The YMCA was the first to establish certification programs for lifesaving, swimming, and aquatic instruction.
  • The YMCA pioneered and expanded summer camping, night school, vocational counseling, adult education, college student services, and junior college.
  • The YMCA assisted in forming volunteer groups like Boy Scouts, Camp Fire, and the USO.

In 2019, we celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the YMCA of Honolulu with an interactive online historic exhibit and documentary video.